CONTIBUTED BY AU EXTENSION OFFICES
WRITTEN BY DUSTIN DUNCAN
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be on the rise starting Oct. 1, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA released a re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, used to calculate SNAP benefits, on Monday. In Alabama, the estimated increase in SNAP benefits will be around $343 for each SNAP-eligible household.
Sondra Parmer, program leader for nutrition programs with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University, said the increase will help Alabamians access more nutritious foods.
“Fifteen percent of Alabama residents are SNAP recipients, which is about 727,000 people,” Parmer said. “The revised plan will help many Alabama families facing food and financial barriers.”
The re-evaluation found the cost of a nutritious, practical and cost-effective diet is 21% higher than the current Thrifty Food Plan. As a result, the average SNAP benefit will increase by $36.24 per person per month — or $1.19 per day — at the beginning of the fiscal year 2022 on Oct. 1. This excludes additional funds available as part of pandemic relief.
Collectively, SNAP benefits throughout the country are expected to increase by about $19,731, according to the USDA.
As directed by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill — and with the expressed support of President Joe Biden’s Jan. 22 Executive Order — USDA conducted a data-driven review of the Thrifty Food Plan. According to the USDA, the cost adjustment is the first time the plan’s purchasing power has changed since it was first introduced in 1975. This change is reflective of notable shifts in the food marketplace and consumer circumstances throughout the past 45 years.
“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition — it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs and more. And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”
The re-evaluation was driven by four factors in the 2018 Farm Bill — current food prices, typical American diets, dietary guidance and the nutrient content of specific food items. The revised plan includes more fish and red and orange vegetables to align with recommendations in the American dietary guidelines.
Additionally, the plan calculations use up-to-date purchasing data to reflect the current price of foods in today’s marketplace. This data was collected from stores instead of self-reports by households. The revised plan also includes a modest increase in calories to reflect the latest data and support an active lifestyle.
Setting Up For Success
Recent evidence consistently shows that benefit levels are too low to provide for a realistic, healthy diet. This is true even with households contributing their own funds toward groceries. A USDA study found that nearly nine out of 10 SNAP participants reported facing barriers to achieving a healthy diet. The most common barrier is the cost of healthy foods. These findings were echoed in listening sessions USDA held with a broad range of Thrifty Food Plan stakeholders.
“To set SNAP families up for success, we need a Thrifty Food Plan that supports current dietary guidance on a budget,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. “Too many of our fellow Americans struggle to afford healthy meals. The revised plan is one step toward getting them the support they need to feed their families.”
Benefit to Local Economies
Not only do SNAP benefits help local families, they are also beneficial to local economies. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities touts SNAP as one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus during a downturn. This is because most households redeem monthly SNAP benefits quickly and because the program helps struggling households purchase adequate food.
A recent USDA study estimates each dollar in new SNAP benefits spent when the economy is weak and unemployment is high would increase the gross domestic product by $1.54.
In good times and tough times, SNAP is one of the most far-reaching, powerful tools available to ensure that all Americans can afford healthy food. The program helps to feed more than 42 million Americans — one in eight — each month. Evidence is clear that SNAP increases food security, including households with children disproportionately impacted by hunger during COVID.
Read the full press release from the USDA concerning the Thrifty Food Plan.
To learn more about SNAP benefits and the USDA, visit www.usda.gov. For more information about Auburn SNAP-Ed, visit www.livewellalabama.com or check them out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.